In rural Morgan County, where I’ve lived since 2002, our fiscally conservative commissioners will spend 15 minutes debating a $500 expenditure. We take the spending of tax dollars very seriously, and it’s why we enjoy a low millage rate, and can still have nice things like new schools, parks, recreation facilities, and a brand new 25 bed hospital.

It’s shocking that the Legislature is rushing through an omnibus Voting Bill, HB 316, with a “don’t look” attitude towards the cost. The SAFE Commission was charged with providing a financial review with its recommendations – it did not. The bill’s sponsor, Rep Barry Fleming, was required to request a fiscal note or a waiver – he did not. Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger released an “internal memo” on the purported costs of hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners, but not on HB 316.

HB 316 will require the Secretary of State to purchase nearly 40,000 pieces of electronic equipment – touchscreen voting computers, printers and scanners – plus software licenses and training. The House has just passed authorization for $150M in 20 year bonds to cover the purchase. Who among us would pay for electronic computer equipment and software with borrowed money to be paid back over 20 years?

HB 316 will increase operating expenses for elections:

  •           Printing costs, because every ballot will be printed on proprietary thermal paper
  •           Software license renewals, the new cash cow for tech companies
  •           Audits, a new requirement for Georgia elections

Operating costs are normally passed on to the counties. There is no provision in HB 316 that funds these increased costs, so we are left to wonder how much this unfunded mandate will tally.

Georgia’s House passed HB 316 in 9 days, without any facts about the cost, and it’s now before the Ethics Committee, without any expert testimony scheduled about cost or information from the state on who will foot the bill. I presented a cost analysis to the Senate Elections Subcommittee, using data from the Secretary of State’s site, which predicts the costs of HB 316 will soar well past the $150M budget, closer to $200 million, and was not asked a single follow-up question. Lawmakers’ lack of curiosity about the financial impact of a bill that involves hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is stunning—for controversial equipment that may well have a short useful life.

Election accuracy is also important, and audits are the only way we can have confidence that reported outcomes correctly reflect voters’ will. There is an audit mandate in HB 316, but post-election audits cannot be conducted when votes are cast on electronic ballot marking devices.

The SAFE Commission and the Legislature has ignored expert testimony about why BMD ballots are simply not audit-worthy. The key is in the language of the bill itself:

(7.1) An electronic ballot marker…uses electronic technology to independently and privately mark a paper ballot at the direction of the elector, interpret ballot selections, communicate such interpretation for voter verification, and print an elector verifiable paper ballot.

With hand marked paper ballots, there is no interpretation or verification needed. The voter takes a $1 indelible ink pen and marks a ballot. Period. The touchscreen ballot marking device costs up to $5000, interprets what the voter entered on the touch screen, and prints out a card that must be verified by the voter before it’s considered audit-worthy.  Only the voter can potentially verify that the machine recorded properly. But, humans are not wired to remember a list of choices as long as a typical Georgia ballot. Most of us would fail to notice a missing race, or a “yes” that became a “no” on “ballot question 4” – programming errors and malfeasance can cause those problems. Further, the government cannot mandate that the voter test the machine accuracy in this way. When some voters don’t test or can’t test the machine accuracy, the entire election becomes unauditable.

Finally, I’ll leave you with some observations gained from decades in the procurement business: when a proposal can win on the merits, a salesman will take time to answer your questions about substance and cost. When it can’t, he’ll spin tales, hide cost, and rush your decision. Think about the “used car salesman” memes.

Rep Barry Fleming, sponsor of HB 316, sat before the Senate Ethics committee last week and misrepresented experts’ written warnings that BMD ballots are not audit-worthy. Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger developed a memo now on the SOS site claiming that hand marked paper ballots would cost Georgia taxpayers over $200M – although that cost analysis is absurd, using 300M printed ballots over 10 years at a cost of $.55/ballot, when he knows that fewer than 4M ballots are cast annually on average and Cobb County currently pays $.28/ballot (about 50% of his estimate).

Join me in asking the Senate to slow it down and collect the information it needs to make a responsible decision – our votes are at stake. Demand a Fiscal Note, and a cost assessment from  Raffensberger, and compare those to the analysis I provided this week. The Senate committee should schedule at least 6 hours of hearings with experts in audits, cyber and election security, and the modern conduct of hand marked paper ballot elections – used by over 70% of Americans.

This is a big decision. There is no advantage to proceeding recklessly.

Jeanne Dufort spent 25 years travelling the globe as a buyer, product manager, and supply chain specialist in the home furnishings industry. She moved to Georgia in 1993, currently lives in Madison, and is a member of the Coalition for Good Government.

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